Since collaborating on the 2013 war film Lone Survivor, Mark Wahlberg and director Peter Berg have forged a personal and professional bond that is almost a brand. In the past five months, they’ve released two films back-to-back about brave Everyguys struggling through true-life disasters: September’s Deepwater Horizon cast Wahlberg as an oil-rig technician weathering the 2010 BP explosion, and now the pair have reteamed for Patriots Day, which stars Boston-bred Wahlberg as a policeman who witnesses the terrorist bombing at the 2013 Boston Marathon and joins the hunt for the perpetrators. Currently in limited release, Patriots Day opens wide this Friday. EW talked to the duo about the film and their fruitful relationship.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You’ve made three films together now. What led you two to work together initially?
MARK WAHLBERG: I think there was a reluctance on both our parts to work together. I don’t know if it was a competitive thing or a New York-Boston thing. We had the same agent, and he was always saying, “You gotta work with Pete.”
PETER BERG: I’m a fan, like everybody else. It started with Boogie Nights. There was a coolness that I liked, a grittiness that I liked. Everything that fits into my aesthetic, Mark has.
WAHLBERG: I was gonna ask the question, “So why didn’t you ever hire me, you’re such a big fan?”
BERG: I couldn’t get him, he was always working! I think the only reason I ever turned him down, and I regret it, was The Fighter. I had another movie I was doing. Right?
WAHLBERG: Maybe you were doing The Kingdom at the time. I’d heard about Lone Survivor, and he was having a hard time figuring it out and getting it made. I had a friend who’d financed two other movies. Pete and I met and talked about it, and then we were able to get him to finance it. It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with him and his style of working,
What made you want to make this film so soon after Deepwater Horizon?
WAHLBERG: Boston didn’t always have the best reputation, nor did I, growing up in Boston, as a kid with challenges and obstacles in front of me. I was really inspired by the way people responded, and I wanted to tell that story. It’s never been more difficult or complicated for me to make a movie. It’s about my home, my people, my community. I knew there was one guy to tell the story, who would handle it with the respect and sensitivity that it deserved, and that’s this guy.
BERG: We were close to getting done with Deepwater, a time when, generally, you start to vacation or rest. He took me to Boston; we met some of the key people. Instantly, I was like, “Let’s go.” When you make a movie like Deepwater or Patriots Day, and you’re spending time with these real people, the stories are so infectious. You get Ed Davis, the Commissioner of the Boston Police Department, to sit down, telling you what it felt like to have Obama call him and say, “Look, Ed, we’re so sorry this happened, we’ll give you whatever you want, call me anytime, but you better f—ing solve it.”
You started working on this film just a couple years after the bombing. Did you find anyone who felt this was too soon?
WAHLBERG: If you’d just went by what the media was saying, yes, absolutely, nobody wanted it. In having an opportunity to go into the community, seeing how people responded, how excited they were…everybody felt the same way, you know? They wanted to make sure that we were gonna do the right thing.
Given all the research that went into the film, what led you to create Mark’s composite character, Sergeant Tommy Saunders?
BERG: There was no one cop that did it all. I felt like we needed someone to anchor the film, and that someone would be Mark. Rather than assigning a bunch of stolen valor to a cop that didn’t do everything, it seemed to make sense to tell everybody that Mark was representing some of the very best officers in the Boston police department.
WAHLBERG: A lot of law enforcement agencies finally found a way to work together, in the real situation, but there was obviously a lot of conflict. So imagine all the conflicts when making a movie and telling this story in two hours. We heard from 20 different people, literally, to our face, that they were the ones who put the handcuffs on the kid at the boat, they were the ones who made the final arrest.
BERG: It’s Rashomon. There’s your truth, my truth, and the truth. People were remembering things the way they remember them, but we had to filter through a lot of different stories.
WAHLBERG: I told Pete early on, “We’re never gonna be able to make everybody happy, but we are gonna be able to make everybody proud.” That’s our job, you know? Tell the story. Get it right. Honor these people, and make sure as many people as possible see the movie.
By nature, the film touches on politically charged topics. How do you anticipate it will be received by audiences, given that it’s arriving after a bitter election in a charged political climate?
WAHLBERG: We weren’t thinking about what the election was going to look like. Nobody could have predicted that, right? Keeping that in mind, this is a movie for everybody to find hope and inspiration. Will it inspire conversation and debate about certain things? Absolutely. What was most timely was that these horrific acts of terror happen all over the world.
BERG: These events keep happening. I was in New York 9/11. Mark’s from Boston, flew there immediately after. I was in Nice Bastille Day when the truck drove through and killed all these people. It’s the new reality, unfortunately. The idea of trying to explore how we process this kind of event, how we survive emotionally, what we tell our kids: That was the movie we wanted to make. There’s no hidden agenda, no political agenda. The only politics we were really talking about was the politics of community, the politics of social love.
You’ve been linked to two possible collaborations, a remake of The Six Million Dollar Man and the action film Mile 22. What’s next?
BERG: We’re looking at Mile 22 right now. We’ll see if that comes together.
WAHLBERG: We also have a couple of other nonfiction movies that we’re really excited about.
BERG: We’re gonna keep working together whatever we do.
What draws you guys to work together?
WAHLBERG: I love the man that he is, the father that he is, and the leader. We push each other in a way. It’s competitive.
BERG: He’s come through hell. He could’ve easily ended up in prison. He had 990,000 wrong moves and one right move, repeatedly, and he somehow managed to make the right move. He showed me where he lived in Boston, Dorchester, a rough f—ing neighborhood, and the fact that he survived that… deeply inspirational. He makes me want to work harder. We’re both capable of being sarcastic, vicious, violent lunatics, but we hold each other in check, appeal to the best aspects of each other.
WAHLBERG: I haven’t had this relationship before with another guy. It’s still really hard to put into words for you. But the love, and the respect, is real.